New Zealand’s prime minister can rest at ease that she won’t be getting a call from Marianne Williamson in January 2021 — at least not from Marianne Williamson from the White House.
The author, spiritual leader, and friend to Oprah Winfrey announced that she is ending her presidential bid on Friday. In an email announcing the decision, Williamson said that she “stayed in the race to take advantage of every possible opportunity to share our message,” but with the primaries and caucuses approaching, she was suspending her campaign. “The primaries might be tightly contested among the top contenders, and I don’t want to get in the way of a progressive candidate winning any of them,” she wrote. Williamson had already laid off her campaign staff earlier this month.
This marks the end of one of more unconventional and meme-worthy campaigns of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. While Williamson has a substantial following of people who have read her books and followed her teachings for years, to many Americans, she was a new figure who seemed to come out of left field. Her decision to run on a message of love raised some eyebrows.
Williamson, 67, first gained national prominence in 1992, when she published her first book, A Return to Love, and appeared on Winfrey’s show to talk about it. She has since written about a dozen books, multiple of which have been New York Times best sellers, and her rise is a sign of the increasing number of Americans who consider themselves spiritual but not religious.
While Williamson was never a major contender in the polls and only made the early debates, she did a lot better than many people thought she would at the outset — and didn’t do much worse than plenty of elected officials also in the race. Some of the support for her was ironic — see the Facebook meme page — some of it wasn’t, and some of it was a mix of both.
Many of Williamson’s 2020 backers were also long-time followers and just wanted others to give her a chance. They felt like she had helped them and thought she could help the country. “I call her a modern-day prophet, because of the way she is able to receive and transmit truths,” Jaclyn Moore, one of those followers, told me last year.
Patricia Ewing, Williamson’s former campaign manager, in a phone call said that Williamson deserved credit for getting onto the Democratic debate stage as a woman who was not an elected official and bringing different ideas into the party’s fold. “She’s had an extraordinary run,” she said.
Marianne Williamson’s first debate performance turned her into a meme
Williamson, unlike Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, made it onto the stage during the first rounds of Democratic debates in June, and she did not disappoint. She didn’t get a chance to speak for almost the first half hour of the event, but when she did, viewers took notice.
Williamson speaks with an accent that’s hard to pin down, and her comments were a little, say, unconventional. Some of the highlights:
My first call is to the prime minister of New Zealand, who said her goal was to make New Zealand the place where it’s the best place in the world for a child to grow up. And I will tell her, “Girlfriend, you are so on.” Because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.
Even if we’re just talking about the superficial fixes, ladies and gentlemen, we don’t have a health care system in the United States, we have a sickness care system in the United States.
So, Mr. President — if you’re listening — I want you to hear me please: You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.
She was the most-googled candidate on the debate stage, and her performance gave birth to endless jokes and memes.
She made the stage during the second debate in July as well. That time around, she came armed with some sharper points and delivered pretty substantive answers on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, corporate donations, and reparations. “For politicians, including my fellow candidates who themselves have taken tens of thousands and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same corporate donors, to think that they now have the moral authority to say, ‘We’re going to take them on,’ I don’t think the Democratic Party should be surprised that so many Americans believe ‘yadda, yadda, yadda,’” she said, to applause.
Williamson’s record also came under scrutiny, including not only some of her weird tweets but also some of her questionable advice on weight loss and seeming suggestions that mental illness can be addressed through spirituality instead of medical treatment. (Her campaign has said that Williamson believes Western medicine should come first and she would “never tell anybody to get off their medication.”) On the campaign trail, Williamson’s comments about vaccines were also scrutinized after she called mandatory vaccines “draconian” and “Orwellian” at a campaign stop. She later walked back the comments and said that “many vaccines are important and save lives,” though she understands the skepticism around drugs “rushed to market by Big Pharma.”
Williamson and her supporters cried foul in July when Vogue published a story on all of the women in the Democratic primary race — except for her. She later photoshopped herself into a picture from the story.
This isn’t Williamson’s first political loss — she made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2014 — and her regular business will surely keep plugging along. (She’s definitely seen a boost to her public profile.) In an interview with SiriusXM in September, Williamson did not rule out another potential congressional bid.
Marianne may be gone from the 2020 race, but she’s not forgotten. Nor are the memes.
And Williamson, staying true to form, closed her campaign suspension message as you would expect: “A politics of conscience is still yet possible. And yes ... love will prevail.”